Was James’s Cameron’s Multi-billion Grossing Movie Avatar Plagiarized from a Chechen Author’s 2002 Novel? The Courts Decide.
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What are you watching? Are you sure?
Chechen author Ruslan Zakriyev considers that sections of his novel Secret Weapon (published online in Russian as Sekretnoye Oruzhiye) were lifted to form the basis of the 2009 hit film Avatar. The issue first surfaced in 2015 when Zakriyev announced his intention to sure the film’s director James Cameron for US 1 billion if his company wouldn’t come to a mutually agreeable settlement. Cameron reportedly laughed off the claim, suggesting that Zakriyev join the queue of other fantasists and chancers hoping to cash in on the film’s success. Zakriyev later reduced his demand to 10,000,000 Roubles (around US$165,000 at the time) while writing an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting support. The case was heard in a court in Stavropol but rapidly dismissed.
That, one might have thought, would be that. However, Zakriyev didn’t give up. Deciding to restart proceedings in Chechnya, his case slowly worked through the system until, in May 2019, the Chechen Supreme Court finally decided that the case should be re-heard, this time by a Grozny District judge. Again it was unsuccessful, but still, Zakriyev fought on.
So in 2021, he went to Moscow and sued the Russian office of 20th Century Fox International, the film’s production company, for 10,000,000 roubles which, by this time, was equivalent to US$137,000. He argued that not only had Avatar directly used fragments of Secret Weapon’s plot and dialogue but also that he had correspondence from Cameron that, he claimed, showed that the director admitted these similarities.
According to one press report, Zakriyev’s highly improbable claims went as far as to suggest that the reason that no sequel to Avatar had yet been produced was that the US production company was waiting for him to publish part two of Secret Weapon.
The case finally came to court this week. Unsuccessful yet again, a furious Zakriyev vowed to fight on and called the decision “a mockery of justice.”